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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament


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The Roman system of taxation prevailed generally in those countries where Christians were living in the Apostolic Age. The taxes were of two kinds, viz. (1) indirect, such as customs-duty levied on merchandise in transit; and (2) direct, consisting of (a) taxes imposed upon products of the land (tributum soli or agri) and (b) poll-tax (tributum capitis). The indirect taxes were commonly controlled by local authorities who farmed them out to the so-called ‘publicans.’ The publican paid the Government a fixed sum for the privilege of collecting the customs from a given territory, reimbursing himself and paying his subordinates out of the surplus. Although the amount to be collected on different articles was probably in most cases fixed by law (see especially the Palmyrene inscription edited by Schroeder in SBAW [Note: BAW Sitzungsberichte der Berliner Akademie der Wissenschaften.] , 1884, pp. 417-438), the collector frequently grew rich on the profits; and it is not improbable that he often made excessive assessments (cf. Luke 3:13; Luke 19:8). On the other hand, the direct taxes-the ‘tribute’ proper-were not farmed out, but were collected by Roman officials. Levies on the products of the soil were paid partly in kind and partly in money, and the poll-tax was paid in Imperial coinage (Luke 20:24). From time to time in the provinces a census was taken (cf. Luke 2:1 ff.) as a basis for regulating taxation.

Christians in apostolic times must have been quite familiar with all these forms of taxation, although the Christian writings of the period contain only a few references to these matters. It is true that the publicans (τελῶναι) appear somewhat frequently in the Gospels (8 times in Matthew , 3 times in Mark , 10 times in Lk.; also τέλος in Matthew 17:25, Romans 13:7; and τελώνιον in Matthew 9:9Mark 2:14Luke 5:27), but reference to direct taxation-the payment of ‘tribute’-is less frequent. In Romans 13:6 f. St. Paul admonishes his readers to pay tribute (φόρους) as a matter of conscience, since rulers are God’s instruments in the preservation of civic order. All three Synoptic Gospels report an incident in which Jesus had advised submission to the existing order, even to the extent of paying the Imperial tribute (κῆνσος, Lat. census, Matthew 22:17; Matthew 22:19, Mark 12:14 f.; but φόρος in Luke 20:22; Luke 23:2 and δηνάριον in Luke 20:24). The dues payable to the Temple in Jerusalem are also spoken of as ‘tribute’ (κῆνσος) in Matthew 17:25, where Jesus again advised submission for practical reasons, although affirming that ideally Christians were free from this obligation.

Literature.-J. J. Wetstein, Novum Testamentum Graecum, Amsterdam 1751-52, i. 314-316; J. Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, ii.2. [Leipzig, 1884] 180ff., 261 ff., 289 ff.; B. P. Grenfell and J. P. Mahaffy, Revenue Laws of Ptolemy Philadelphus, Oxford, 1896; U. Wilcken, Griechische Ostraka aus Aegypten und Nubien, Leipzig, 1899, i. 194ff.; E. Schürer, GJV [Note: JV Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes (Schürer).] i.4 [Leipzig, 1901] 474ff., 510ff.

S. J. Case.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Tribute'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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